Serial entrepreneur Naveen Jain is on a moonshot mission to cure diseases by manipulating the bacteria in people's guts. A year into his new venture, he says it's working. 

Jain, founder of space venture Moon Express and biotech startup Viome--and no stranger to making bold claims--spoke onstage Thursday at The Wall Street Journal's Future of Everything Festival, at times with dizzying speed about his new company. Viome, which launched in May 2017, studies the bacteria in a person's gut using blood, urine, stool, and saliva samples. It then uses artificial intelligence to make recommendations about what foods to eat (or stop eating) to help fight off chronic diseases like Parkinson's or Alzheimer's.

Jain has boasted that Viome will make illness "optional." Onstage, he offered anecdotal evidence about Viome's progress: The company has pulled in tens of thousands of customers in its first year, and they're seeing results. "People are telling us their acne is gone, their eczema is gone," he claimed. "People are saying their depression and anxiety are gone."

Jain clarified that "we're not curing them," but instead the information Viome provides helps lessen or eliminate people's symptoms. Down the line, Jain has said, the company will seek FDA approval so it can use its technology to diagnose diseases.    

Jain's big idea behind Viome is based on the belief that the microbiome, which consists of the trillions of bacteria and viruses within the gut, is the foundation of a person's health. Adjusting the makeup of the microbiome, the belief goes, can affect the onset of certain diseases. 

To be sure, the study of the microbiome is still a nascent branch of medicine. Health experts who spoke with Inc. last year described the field as "new and controversial."

"There are some very interesting links that are currently being established," said University of Washington nutritional sciences professor Adam Drewnowski. "But to [suggest] that microbiome imbalance causes something like Alzheimer's at this point, I would think, is something of an overstatement."

Viome's technology was first developed by the Los Alamos National Lab for defense against bioterrorism. The tech is co-owned by the New Mexico-based lab and the startup, which is located in Bellevue, Washington.

Always animated and quick to make a joke, Jain at several points made the audience laugh with his bold claims and pointed humor. When asked about the research that exists on the microbiome, he smiled and responded, "There's this company called Google," encouraging the audience to search for one of a half-dozen research papers on the microbiome's potential impact on health.

At several points, Jain briefly ranted about the health care industry's business model, arguing that hospitals and drug companies benefit from keeping patients sick. "We needed to get away from the current health care system," he said. "We want you to become CEO of your own health."

Jain, who recently made an ambitious promise that his startup Moon Express will get to the moon in 2018, also hinted at his next venture. 

"Once I fix this," he said to some chuckles from the audience, "I'm going to focus on education, and then we'll fix education."

Published on: May 10, 2018